Finn at his first show.  BC Dressage Champs in Sept 2012.  Major Milestone - complete!

My Canter Pirouette Epiphany

This past weekend were the Pacific Regional Championships in BC, held at Thunderbird Show Park.  I decided after all to show Fourth Level and did my Freestyle again.   And I am glad I did because the PSG classes were big and with top riders and horses.

Vinny and the canter pirouettes have been like oil and water since “The California Incident”.  They had turned into spinning around, upside down most of the time with the shoulders down and lucky if he keeps cantering let alone the same lead.

So back to the basics in the canter and the pirouettes, now in schooling they are back.  For the last 2 shows, I have left the canter p’s as large working p’s because that is ok at Fourth level and not really worried about them being too big, but just keeping the canter and control of the neck.

In the last few weeks, I have found a new dimension to the canter p’s – YAY!!   The question would remain if I could get them in the test…. hmmm, sometimes you don’t know till you get to the show.   In this new dimension, I have been able to keep Vinny’s neck down and soft and still turn.

Then I found I could do that, AND push the canter bigger or smaller as I wanted.  Then, I realized if I have the neck under control (easy to flex both ways and stays elastic on the outside rein) AND I could push the canter bigger or smaller, then I could  decrease the size of the pirouette without problem.  WOW – I feel like this all just landed in my lap one day, but I know better and it was a build up of all the basic work I went back to doing this summer.

The best part about this, is I haven’t even got to the epiphany yet!  At my stage in life (advanced age of 40 now, yes I had my birthday) I have not had an epiphany in a loooong time, and they are much different than before when you discover something for the first time.  They are now a rediscovery of something or a feeling that clicks into place – and POP!

Saturday at the show, the canter p’s were ……. ok…. they were a bit spinning, but he was sitting like crazy (over doing it really) but I still have better neck control before and after –  just not necessarily during.   After discussing the walk and canter p’s from my test afterwards with my old mentor/coach, Christine Jacobsen, I realized that I was over-riding them.

 At the time, I felt like I was barely using my aids – but Vinny can be so responsive that I guess I was yelling at him in the test and not even knowing it.  I thought I was supporting him, but actually pushing and pulling him off sideways.  “he turns so easily and he sits no problem, you don’t need so much leg” Christine says – and I respond “but I am not using much” so she says the obvious “use less”.

I went home, noted this in my journal, and then realized I was riding the canter p’s like I had to ride them with my last horse.  My first horse, Speedy, did canter p’s no problem – you turn while cantering and voila (he had other problems).  With Vienna, my black mare,  she was a lot more challenged physically in the canter and needed a lot of help with my aids to have good canter p’s.  Vinny is not as challenged, but gets bottled up mentally and I thought he needed more support and as a result I over rode them.

Sunday – the canter p’s in my warm-up were great!  The one to the right was like butter, I could go in, out or put his neck up or down, left and right.  Not only that, but I felt I could go around and around no problems.  The left was close, but this can be the challenging side for him.

In the test, they didn’t go quite as planned, since I abandoned him a little bit – trying to use so little leg.  But, he was not bothered or stressed by this and we ended up with passable canter p’s.  Actually it was quite a good test.  Here is Vinny doing a canter p (the better one) and the 4 tempi changes on the diagonal.  Will compare it to the new and improved ones soon!

Vinny at PRDCs – canter

Now a few days after the show, we are back home and doing easy work.  Now I have been breaking in some new boots, which of course make your legs feel like useless wooden posts.  Today, the canter was feeling so good I thought I would just do some easy, large working canter p’s.  And low and behold, there they were so easy – and with the useless wooden posts for legs!  Alas, by jove, I got it!  The epiphany!  I found the right amount of leg and turning aids!

This goes along with a great article Elizabeth McMullen wrote in the July 2011 Dressage Today  “When doing our best means doing nothing”  which is about not over riding the canter p’s.

Since the show season is over, I have no worries about whether or not these new canter p’s will be there for the next show.  I have MONTHS to get this!  I am looking forward to winter training, and hope that I can rediscover today’s canter p’s again.

It is these little things that make you excited to ride, doesn’t it?

Alison